For big populations, rapid coronavirus tests work better than PCR – dpa international

Outdoor dining in Dublin, the capital of Ireland, where the government has been reluctant to use antigen testing as part of its coronavirus measure (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Rapid antigen tests for coronavirus likely work better for larger populations than slower but more sensitive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, Indian scientists have found. A “computational analysis” comparing testing regimes and results across India, which was recently hit hard by a virus surge, suggests “the amount of testing matters more than the sensitivity of the tests.” The findings hint that lower- and middle-income countries “might be able to achieve optimal outcomes by concentrating on ramping up testing using less sensitive tests which provide immediate results.”

Coronavirus antibodies last at least 9 months after infection – dpa international

Outside a Dublin hospital (Simon Roighneen)

DUBLIN — Coronavirus antibodies last “at least” nine months after infection, according to Imperial College London and the University of Padua. Antibody levels “remain high” whether or not the infected person developed symptoms of Covid-19, the disease sometimes caused by the virus, the researchers found, after testing patients in northern Italy, one of the hardest hit regions at the outset of the pandemic. “The great majority of SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) infections, irrespective of symptom onset, develop antibodies,” according to the research, which was published on Monday in the journal Nature Communications.

Irish government’s pub reopening plan criticised as “discriminatory” – dpa international

Outdoor drinking on a June Sunday afternoon in Galway (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Pubs in Ireland’s capital Dublin have slammed government plans to have them screen customers for proof of coronavirus vaccination as “discriminatory” and likely to spark conflict. The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA) on Tuesday said the measures, which would apply nationwide as part of a plan to reopen indoor service in restaurants and pubs, “will lead to flashpoints between hospitality staff and potential customers.” “Our members are already reporting there is real anger about this,” according to LVA chief Donall O’Keefe, who said there are “major question marks” about enforcement of the proposed rules, which would also cover customers with proof of previous coronavirus infection. However the LVA believes it has “no option” but “to go along” with plan due to the government’s threat to otherwise retain Europe’s sole remaining ban on indoor drinking and dining until at least September.

Singapore aiming to live with flu-like ‘endemic’ Covid-19 – dpa international

DUBLIN — Singapore’s government on Thursday said it should be possible “to live normally” with Covid-19, which it expects to become “endemic” like influenza.  The three ministers responsible for the government’s coronavirus response announced “a broad plan” to “turn the pandemic into something much less threatening.” Pointing to the example of influenza, Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that “we can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19.” 

Pandemic and lockdowns drive food prices up but send diet quality down – dpa international

DUBLIN — The coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions have jacked up food prices around the world and spurred a surge in unhealthy eating, according to a set of papers published on Monday by the American Society for Nutrition. According to author Caroline Um of the American Cancer Society, the researchers found a “decrease in the consumption of many food groups, particularly healthy foods such as vegetables and whole grains, compared to before the pandemic.” “We saw panic buying, problems in the food supply chain, increases in food prices and rising unemployment rates,” Um said. Researchers at Tufts University said food prices went up across 133 countries as pandemic-related curbs were introduced. “More stringent restrictions were linked with a higher price of food and a higher ratio of food prices to prices across all consumer goods,” they said.

Murders an ‘exception’ as city crime drops by a third during lockdowns – dpa international

Pandemic restrictions have left city landmarks, such as this mall in Kuala Lumpur seen during Malaysia's first lockdown last year, mostly empty (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — Pandemic lockdowns coincided with “significant” falls in crime rates in 27 cities across 23 countries, according to academics from the University of Cambridge and the University of Utrecht. The research, which was published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggested that rates of “most types of crime” dropped “significantly” in the wake of an “unparalleled sudden change in daily life.” However, homicides fell by a relatively low 14 per cent overall in what the team said was “a key exception” to their findings. With people in many cities forced to mostly stay at home by pandemic-related curbs, Amy Nivette of the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, said “restrictions on urban mobility may have little effect on domestic murders.”

Pandemic travel collapse continuing into 2021, says UN agency – dpa international

Pandemic curbs led to a collapse in travel and tourism, affecting visitor numbers to attractions such as Croagh Patrick, a pilgrimage mountain on Ireland's Atlantic coast (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said on Wednesday that first-quarter arrivals were down 83 per cent on the same period last year, as pandemic restrictions continued to hold back international travel. Official data collated by the United Nations agency showed Asia and the Pacific continuing “to suffer the lowest levels of activity with a 94 per cent drop in international arrivals over the three-month period.” North America reported the smallest decline, at 71 per cent, while arrivals in Europe were down by over 80 per cent. The UNWTO said the weak first-quarter numbers followed last year’s record annual 73-per-cent fall in arrival numbers worldwide, which cost the sector an estimated 1.1 trillion dollars, equivalent to Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP). Travel ground to a halt in March 2020 after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic.

OECD says world economy to grow at an ‘uneven’ 6 per cent this year – dpa international

Businesses such as this retailer in Ireland have been foced to close by pandemic restrictions. Patrons seen here lining up to enter after the end of Ireland's third lockdown in May 2021 (Simon Roughneen)

DUBLIN — The global economy could grow by “nearly 6 per cent” this year, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Monday, while warning that recovery from pandemic-related losses will be “very uneven.” Growth will be driven by the world’s three main economic powers, with China’s gross domestic product (GDP) set to expand by more than 8 per cent, the Paris-based OECD said. The US should be close behind, registering nearly 7 per cent GDP growth, with the European Union clocking a higher-than-usual 4.25 per cent.But while this year’s projected rebound would amount to “an impressive surge after the 3.5-per-cent contraction in 2020” it is unlikely to return living standards “to the level expected before the pandemic” by the end of next year, the OECD said in its 2021 Economic Outlook, which noted that pandemic-related curbs have made it more difficult to estimate GDP and “may have reduced the comparability of economic outcomes across countries.” 

Asian exports and pandemic demand fuel record global trade rebound – dpa international

The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, for a time the world's tallest building

DUBLIN — Global trade enjoyed a record rebound in the first quarter of 2021, according to UN estimates, growing 10 per cent year-on-year largely on the back of booming exports from East Asia. Countries in the region thrived after “early success in pandemic mitigation,” which “allowed them to rebound faster and to capitalize on booming global demand for Covid-19 related products,” the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said in a report published on Wednesday. China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam have been among the nations reporting relatively low virus-related death tolls and surging exports. Health care products, digital services and “home office” equipment were in high demand last year, UNCTAD said, though international travel and hospitality services lagged.

Lifeline remittances stay steady despite pandemic and recessions – dpa international

DUBLIN — Global remittances fell by 1.6 per cent last year to 540 billion dollars, a less-than-expected decline in what the World Bank labelled “lifeline” cashflows for millions of people. The global total, which amounts to around the same as Belgium’s gross domestic product (GDP), held up far better than other economic indicators, according to a bank report published on Wednesday. The bank earlier estimated a global GDP fall of 4.3 per cent and a 30 per cent drop in foreign investment into low and middle-income countries in 2020.